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Someone once asked me if I’ve ever made Friday Night Casserole. That’s hysterical; I think we all know I’d never do that. But if I ever had to, I bet I could come up with a special Friday Night Casserole meal by using the leftovers in my fridge, like my Mom would have. Of course, my fridge actually has food in it that I want to eat. But there aren’t usually leftovers in my fridge (hello … Jay lives here). Though there are times I look through my cupboards and fridge to survey what I could make a meal out of. Thankfully I always have good stuff like chicken stock, tomato sauce and pasta noodles in the cupboards;  onions, mushrooms, spinach, butter and cheese in the fridge, and olive oil, limes and tomatoes on the counter. Always. These are all some of my favorite foods and I bet I could come up with at least 20 ways to prepare them. But I wonder what I could come up with if I had to resort to some of Mary Ann’s ingredients.

Have you ever seen the TV show “Chopped” or “Iron Chef?” I think Mary Ann created the concept of Iron Chef before the Japanese did. They have to make a meal featuring one secret food ingredient. The chefs on “Chopped” find four random (and often disgusting) ingredients in their baskets and have to prepare dishes with them. Somehow they always make something the judges like. Mary Ann could also take any ingredients and make a meal out of them. Unfortunately it was usually something her judges didn’t like. One time her secret ingredient was turnips. Of course, she told us that big bowl of mashed white stuff was potatoes. And naturally, being the Spud Queen, I piled that stuff on my plate. Big mistake.

Here’s a sample of four ingredients that could be found in one of Mary Ann’s baskets:

Spam

Canned Pineapple

Jar of Marinated Vegetables

Lipton Onion Soup Mix

or

Canned Tuna

Oyster Crackers

Celery

Cream of Mushroom Soup

or

Bell Peppers

Leftover White Rice

Ketchup

Velveeta Cheese

or

Can of Stewed Tomatoes

Pimento Loaf Lunch Meat

White Bread

Water

Okay, it usually wasn’t that extreme, but it’s close. So anyway, there’s no such thing as throwing together a Friday Night Casserole at my house. When I find the leftovers are piling up in the fridge, I’ve found a way to make them appealing. See, Jay loves buffets. Loves them. I hate them. All those glass sneeze-guards that are too tall to block kids’ sneezes, day-old lettuces, rice pilaf ending up in the mashed potatoes, sticky serving utensils, crab that’s never crab, and pretty much just cooties galore. Jay knows the only way he can get me to go to a buffet is this: when one of the nieces or nephews spends the night and we ask them where they’d like to go for dinner, he whispers “HomeTown Buffet” in their ear. Then I’m screwed.

So for times when Jay passes up the leftovers in the fridge, I hold a “Buffet Night.” I take out all the leftovers, which are never disgusting, and heat them up. I place them on the kitchen counter in pretty bowls and plates and add a bowl of green salad, make some yummy appetizer and throw in a bowl of his favorite potato chips to make it fancy. Works every time. I have to be honest: I got the idea from Jay. One time he had to watch our niece for about an hour before I got home. She was about 2 at the time. When I got home, she yelled out, “We’re having a Food Party!” He had put raisins, cheese, grapes, goldfish crackers, pretzels and other kid foods in a bunch of cute little bowls on the table, and my niece was eating every single one of them. See, you just have to make it fancy.

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Well, if you’re reading this, we’re still here. The Mayans were just lazy and didn’t want to finish that calendar.

I had a great idea. I thought I’d bet everyone who thought the world would end a million dollars that it wouldn’t. Or at least a hundred dollars. If they truly believed the world would end, they’d bet, even though they knew they wouldn’t be around to enjoy their winnings. Of course, if I won the bet, which I would, they’d have to pay me. I’d be really rich. But I couldn’t find anyone who firmly believed today was the end of the world.

Mayan

(image from Sugar and Spice. Vodka and Ice. on facebook)

So I was thinking, what would be my last meal if I knew it was my last day on Earth? That’s a tough one. There’s so many wonderful things to choose from. Friday Night Casserole isn’t one of them, if you were wondering. I’d just want a huge table filled with all my favorite things, like these:

Alaskan King Crab Legs

Malfatti

Shrimp Tempura Sushi drenched in Teriyaki Sauce

Cheese Enchiladas topped with Guacamole, Cilantro and Sour Cream with Lime Zest

Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups

Barbeque Potato Chips

Eggs Benedict drenched in Hollandaise Sauce

Big Fat Mocha

Pad Thai

Orange Chicken

Tomato Slices with Basil drenched in Balsamic Vinegar

Yakisoba

Junior Mints

Chicken Marsala with tons of mushrooms and onions

Veggie Pizza with extra cheese

Hash Browns and Fried Eggs drenched in Heinz Ketchup

Big fat Red Hook ESB

Well, that’s a start. And nope, no greens in there. Why would I care, I wouldn’t have to worry about vitamins, calories or heart disease.  So if you’re all here tomorrow, attach a comment with your ideal “Last Supper” items. I can’t wait to hear what they are. Now I’m gonna go eat a few things on this list … just in case.

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I haven’t seen a Jello Mold since around 1975. Thank God. There’s a reason they called it a mold. It tastes about as good as mold; well, at least the Jello Molds I remember from my childhood. Sure, they looked fancy and all, but if my Mom added stuff in the Jello, I didn’t want anything to do with it. I could deal with mandarin oranges or marshmallows in them, but not any of the other tasty nuggets that could be found swimming in one of Mary Ann’s Jello Molds – things like carrots, raisins or walnuts – sometimes all of them together.

Back in the ‘70s, I think we only had a few varieties of Jello: red, green, orange and yellow. I guess they had flavors, like cherry or lime, but our Jello choices were quite limited then. In all honesty, I kinda liked Cherry Jello with colored marshmallows prepared in one of those fancy plastic jello molds. And Mary Ann also made really cool Jello 1-2-3 dishes. (See the photo in the blog banner above.) She would make the Jello 1-2-3 in separate fancy wine glasses and tip them in the fridge, so when they set they’d have an intriguing diagonal design. Impressive and inexpensive – right up Mom’s alley.

But when it comes to most of the Jello Molds I remember as a kid, they were certainly a dessert I’d pass up. I guess I didn’t have it as bad as kids in the late ‘50s though. See, I found this 1956 issue of Sunset magazine at an estate sale:

SAMSUNG

I was flipping through it because I just knew I’d find something ridiculous to make fun of. And here it is:

SAMSUNG

If you’re wondering what that is, well, it’s a Jello Mold. A quite fancy version. A quite disgusting version actually, with probably the most repulsive ingredients to ever be included in a Jello Mold. Just look at the recipe:

SAMSUNG

Yes, you read that correctly: shrimp, pimento, cucumber, vinegar, onions and horseradish … in JELLO. And if that isn’t bad enough, look what else the recipe suggests:

SAMSUNG

Excuse me? Top it with mayonnaise? Those people have lost their minds. And sure, just serve it with potato chips and asparagus for a fancy meal. I’m fine with the asparagus, but what are the potato chips for? To dip in to the creepy Jello Mold like it’s a savory onion dip? No thanks. Suddenly, soggy carrots, raisins and walnuts don’t sound too bad.

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With Thanksgiving quickly approaching, Jay and I are putting together our dinner menu. This year we’re hosting family for the traditional dinner. We usually go to one of my sister’s places for holiday dinners, but this year Tracy is getting ready to remodel her kitchen, Coleen will be at her in-laws and Melissa will be in Napa (darnit … she has two kitchens with a total of three ovens). So Jay and I are making Thanksgiving dinner here. He acquired two turkeys for free after doing some volunteer work with a friend, and now his current passion is to complete the rest of the dinner for under $15. That should take care of mashed potatoes, dinner rolls and a green salad. I sure hope the rest comes together with the dishes that everyone else brings. Oh, and he also acquired a free case of green beans. Sigh. That means Green Bean Casserole. Actually my niece, Tristene, will take the green beans and make the dish, which is great, because I don’t want anything to do with them. I hate green beans. I mean, I’m allergic to green beans (that excuse seems to go over better with everyone who doesn’t understand my discriminating palate). The only “green” beans I’ll eat are soy beans. Maybe I should make edamame for Thanksgiving. In fact, I always try to talk everyone into Japanese food or Italian food for Thanksgiving. It hasn’t worked yet.

(Oh, hold please. While sitting here on the couch, I just heard Jay dig his hand into the chip bag and he was actually snoring two seconds ago. Need to make sure he’s not sleep eating again.)

Okay, I’m back. You know, I really don’t like traditional Thanksgiving food. As a kid, I survived off of mashed potatoes, a roll and the marshmallows off the top of the yams. And maybe canned black olives if I was lucky. But stuffing? Blecch. Candied yams? Blecch. Cranberry sauce? Blecch. Green Bean Casserole? Double Blecch.

I know, you all love it I’m sure, especially at Thanksgiving. But probably not the variety of Green Bean Casserole my Mom used to make. The ‘French’ string beans Mary Ann found for this dish seemed to have that extra ‘hairy coating’ on them that made me texture-gag. And I don’t know what was worse, the hairy green beans or the “gourmet” canned fried onions that melted into goo on top of them. Hmm, hairy green beans … I guess that’s where the French name “haricot vert” came from … hairy French veggies.

Tracy actually asked for seconds of Green Bean Casserole. Brown-Noser. I, on the other hand, would secretly practice my telepathic skills to summon our German shepherd, Sundance, over to the table to eat my portion. She was no dummy. She’d look at me out of the corner of her eye and wait for me to telepathically offer her my Spam instead. Yep, she could have that, too.

There’s just nothing like a mouth-watering recipe off the side of a canned food item. I don’t even have to give you the recipe for Green Bean Casserole; you all probably have it committed to memory. You’re probably fixing it right now.

Till this day, I can’t even eat regular canned green beans. The only kind of green beans I can handle are those of the fresh variety. But canned spinach? Hello!! I love every type of spinach there is. I eat spinach salad just about every night. I’ll open up a can of spinach and dig in with my fork just to gross Jay out (it is possible). I might even throw it on a plate cold and sprinkle some apple cider vinegar on it. Yum. Am I grossing anyone out? Good. That’s what you get for liking Green Bean Casserole.

But Happy Thanksgiving!

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My Aunt Bessie was my favorite. When I was born I was a month or so premature–and apparently gave my Mom one heck of a time during my delivery–so Aunt Bessie came to stay with us to help take care of me and my older sister, Tracy, while Mom had some bed rest. Aunt Bessie was my Dad’s sister-in-law. She stood all of 4’7” soaking wet. Her husband, my Uncle Frank, stood about 6’5’ slouching. They were an impressive sight. Aunt Bessie and Uncle Frank moved to Ogden, Utah when I was little, so I only got to see her, Uncle Frank and my cousins on summer vacations.

I can remember driving across that barren desert between California and Utah in our trusty wood-paneled Ford Station Wagon. The morning of the trip, Mom would wake all four of us kids up at like 4:00 a.m. and line us up on the couch. Dad would be out packing up the car, which Mom had turned in to a traveling Motel 6 the day before. Before we could pile in to the car, Mom made us each drink a half can of 7-Up each…to “settle our stomachs” for the road trip. With my amazing oral hygiene, I had brushed my teeth first, and let me tell ya, 7-up mixed with toothpaste-mouth tastes somewhat like bad bourbon.

We’d all wander comatose to the car, one of us with our baby sister Melissa in our arms, to fall in to our spots. Tracy was the queen, so she got the back seat. Mom had packed ice coolers, overnight bags and who knows what else on the floorboards, and then piled blankets on top of those and the back seat so that Tracy had a spacious full bed to spread out on. Coleen, Melissa and I got the back. Mom would lay out all the sleeping bags and our pillows and we would share that back space. I could never sleep. I pretended I could so my parents wouldn’t feel bad, but I was always worried that the back door would fly open and I’d go flailing out onto the night highway. So I made sure to never push my feet too hard against the back door. Sometimes I’d pop my head up until my parents would invite me up to the front seat to sit between them. I’d be sure to step square on Tracy’s back on my way up.

When daylight hit we’d all be awake and bouncing around the inside of that station wagon. Mom would always be prepared with snacks and Car Bingo to keep us occupied. There were no Capri Suns or mobile devices back then, but we were perfectly content with our Styrofoam cup of Tang and little Car Bingo board. For about an hour. God knows how our parents put up with us the rest of the time. My Dad’s foot certainly got heavier on the pedal as the day progressed. I remember one time we were in the middle of the Salt Lake Desert and I looked over at the speedometer…see we were all standing up leaning over the front seat because really, who stayed in their seatbelts back then? Did we even have seatbelts? Anyway we were all leaning over the front seat and I said, “Dad! Slow down!!! You’re doing 90!!!” See, I was the Miss Goody-Two-Shoes of the family. So Dad slowed down to the 55 speed limit. I then said, in unison with my sisters, “Dad, speed up again!” Yeah, we didn’t want to be in that car with each other any longer than we had to.

My parents didn’t want to be in that car either. One time, we were acting up a little too much and my Dad had to pull the car over (like they always threaten. Well, he did it.)  Mom opened up that station wagon’s back door and was opening up a can of much-deserved whoop-ass on us. Just then a policeman pulled up. He walked up to my Mom as she was in the throes of spanking us and said, “Ma’am, what’s going on here?” She stopped smacking us for a second to say, “Officer, I’m just disciplining my children.” He paused for a moment then said, “Carry on.” And left. Today, my Mom would be doing 10 to 20 in the state pen for child abuse.

Well, we finally reached our destination of Ogden, Utah and Aunt Bessie’s house. There was all kinds of fun with my cousins Gayle, Sharon and Dwayne, day trips to campgrounds, swimming in someone’s pool, sliding on the Slip and Slide in Aunt Bessie’s back yard and playing poker. Well, the adults played poker and we got to watch.

Aunt Bessie was a baking, sewing fiend. She made the best cookies, pies and pastries and created amazing quilts…all with a cigarette in one hand and a cup of coffee in the other. She was so little she had a contractor build her a low countertop in the kitchen so she could roll out her dough with ease. I loved visiting her through the years and staying up late eating cookies and playing cards with her. She treated me like a grown-up. Maybe that’s because even as a kid I was taller than her.

Aunt Bessie had a big heart and a quick wit. The last time I visited her in 2005, she was in her early ‘80s and was up till midnight in her favorite chair, laughing and telling stories, with a cigarette in one hand and a cup of coffee in the other.

She passed away the following year and Tracy and I flew to Ogden for her memorial. After the service, we were shuffling through the food buffet line when I came across an interesting dish…I could clearly see potatoes, which is always a winner for me. I stuck the big metal spoon into the dish and asked my cousin…”are those corn flakes on top?” Yes, there were corn flakes on top. That intrigued me…a little sweet and savory potato dish would certainly not disappoint, though they were somewhat creepy.  So I asked, “What are these?”

“Those are Funeral Potatoes,” my cousin replied. I think I just stood there with my big spoon in the potatoes. Then I said, “Um, what are Funeral Potatoes?” She explained that they are basically a traditional potato casserole dish that someone always brings to the reception after a memorial service. And in Utah, most of those service receptions take place in a church hall, usually a Mormon church. Good thing my Aunt Bessie wasn’t Mormon because I’m guessing as a non-Mormon I wouldn’t have been allowed in to the service and I wouldn’t have discovered those delicious potatoes. I had three servings.

Funeral Potatoes

Ingredients

32-ounce bag of frozen hash browns

2 cans cream of chicken soup

2 cups sour cream

1-1/2 cups grated cheddar cheese

1/2 cup butter, melted

1/2 cup onion, chopped

2 cups corn flakes, crushed

2 TBS butter, melted

Directions

Grease 9×13 baking dish and preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a large bowl combine soup, sour cream, cheese, onions and butter. Fold the hash browns into the mixture and pour into the baking dish. Combine crushed corn flakes and 2 tablespoons of melted butter and sprinkle them on top of the potato mixture. Bake for 30 minutes.

Dig in, then kiss your loved ones, and your diet, good-bye.

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Well kids, today is the one-year anniversary of the Friday Night Casserole Blog! And it’s also the birthday of the woman who inspired it…Mary Ann. (Check out her photos below!) So you know I need to pay tribute to Mom and re-post the infamous Friday Night Casserole recipe. Have you tried it yet? If you have, you’ve probably cancelled your subscription to this blog. So let’s hope you haven’t.

Thanks for all your support this year; I hope you’re enjoying the posts…even though I’ve become a little lazy (busy) and haven’t posted regularly each Friday.  I’ll do my best to keep entertaining you, or, activating your gag reflex…whichever.

Friday Night Casserole:

There were two kinds of Fridays in our house:  Pay Day Friday and Casserole Friday. We loved Payday Friday. Dad would come home from his job at Mare Island with a wad of bills. Sometimes he’d even let us hold them. Then everyone would hop into the wood-paneled Ford Station Wagon and head for A & W, or the family restaurant Palby’s for a big night out. Ah, A&W…sitting in the station wagon parked next to the scratchy-sounding order sign/machine thing. My family ordered burgers and root beer—in those fancy frosty mugs of course—however, I always ordered a fish sandwich and grape soda. And yes, they all made fun of me. Except for Coleen who also preferred the fish sandwich. And she believed you weren’t allowed to have a ‘burger’ until you were an adult. She finally had her first Big Mac at the ripe old age of 10. Tracy had to wait till she was 11.

Now for Palby’s, if you never lived in Vallejo or visited the bustling Solano County metropolis with its abundance of 1970’ish restaurants, you might’ve missed Palby’s. Sucks for you cuz Palby’s was awesome. Palby’s was on Hwy 80 between Vallejo and Napa in the area that’s now known as American Canyon. Palby’s was like a freaky dinner theater for kids. Look out the window and there were peacocks. There were seals. But we didn’t eat them. I preferred the deep fried shrimp myself. I recall my little sister Pooh always ordered the ribs and proceeded to happily get the sauce all over her face. Thinking back, Palby’s seemed like a Winchester Mystery House to kids, cuz there were all these different areas with trippy things to see. Or maybe there was just the lobby and the main dining room and I had an over-active imagination.

Sometimes on Payday Friday, Dad and one or two of us kids would just drive on over to Munchie’s on Sonoma Boulevard for 10 cent hamburgers. Munchie’s was a burger joint in a cool round building that sold cheap hamburgers and fries and I just liked saying “Munchies.” Sometimes we’d just grab 300 tacos from Taco Bell, when all they really had was tacos.

But, if it wasn’t a Payday Friday, and you didn’t make plans to get in trouble and stay after school–or better yet, offer to babysit for the neighbor’s heathen kids–you were going to experience Mary Ann’s Friday Night Casserole. God have mercy on your soul.

Ingredients:

No rules apply!!!

Check the cupboards for stray cans of stewed tomatoes, cream of mushroom soup, deviled ham or anything else that resembles vomit. Next, go to the fridge and grab any and every leftover you can find saved in old margarine and Cool Whip tubs—these are important casserole ingredients.

Leftover examples:

Pork n’ Beans

Kentucky Fried Chicken Cole Slaw

Canned spinach

Taco meat

Chopped up fish sticks

Creamed Chip Beef Sauce

The last slice of Olive Loaf luncheon meat that will never be eaten

Macaroni and Cheese

Spam

White rice

Filling for Stuffed Bell Peppers

Bread heels

Chicken Pot Pie

Deviled eggs

Creamed corn

Throw all of the ingredients into a 13 x 9 casserole dish. Feel free to add canned tomato sauce or a packet of onion soup mix to make it fancy.

Bake at 350 degrees. I’m not sure how long you’re supposed to do this. Just hang around the oven to make sure nothing explodes.

Serve to your happy family. Well, they were happy before dinner. Now they hate your guts and are secretly flipping you off below the table. A few of them might be dry heaving into their towel bibs. You will definitely want to plan a huge dessert for later in the evening (stay tuned for “Jello Mold” and “Mayonnaise Cake”).

Mary Ann circa 1982

Mom in the kitchen. I think she’s doing a Rita Hayworth-type of impersonation here.

Happy Birthday Mom!

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Sorry for the lapse in posts…it’s been a very busy few weeks. Tonight I opened up the infamous “ABC of Casseroles” book, you remember the one:

I found some more treasures. You know how some people keep a bottle of that ipecac syrup stuff around in case they need to induce vomiting in a poison victim? This book is essentially the same thing. Simply turn to any page and you’ll immediately kick-start those spit glands. Tonight I’ve chosen a special recipe. The word scallops is in the recipe title, and for a minute, I thought I was in for a treat. Wrong. Well, you be the judge:

First of all, eggs should not go anywhere near scallops. Whoever created this recipe must’ve had a lot of leftover Easter eggs they had to use up. This recipe makes me sad, because scallops is one of my favorites. I once had sea scallops prepared with an orange champagne sauce that was to die for. I imagine you could die eating this dish, too. You know, scallops need to be prepared just right. Boiling them? That’s just plain lazy.

I might’ve been intrigued just a tiny smidge if only they hadn’t ruined it with the bell pepper and celery. Why couldn’t they be a little more fancy and use asparagus, or artichokes, or no eggs? I just imagine all these flavors blending together in the white sauce bread crumb bath. And that’s right, I have no desire to know what exactly white sauce is. Maybe they thought they could distract me with the cheese. Well, it would take a whole lot more than two measly tablespoons of cheese to make me try this dish.

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